Al Boum claims Cheltenham Gold Cup glory

Al Boum Photo gave trainer Willie Mullins his first victory in the Magners Cheltenham Gold Cup following a dramatic race for the showpiece event at the Prestbury Park course.

Leading at the second-last fence, Al Boum Photo (12-1) dug deep for jockey Paul Townend, who was also winning the Gold Cup for the first time.

Anibale Fly stayed on strongly to finish second, two and a half lengths away, with Bristol De Mai another three and three-quarter lengths back in third.

After six second places, Mullins finally broke his Gold Cup hoodoo. His three other runners – Kemboy, Bellshill and Invitation Only – failed to finish.

Invitation Only came down going over a fence on the first lap of the race in an incident which also saw Definitely Red come down.

But whilst Definitely Red was able to get up and gallop away without his jockey, Invitation Only stayed down and was treated by vets behind screens on the course.

His injury caused runners to bypass the third from last fence as they raced for home.

The horse was treated for a considerable amount of time after the race finished but could not be saved, marking a day of triumph and tragedy for Mullins.

Paul Townend and Willie Mullins with the coveted Gold Cup.

Mullins said: “I’ve got used to the disappointment of finishing second. I thought Bellshill would take a lot of beating, but Ruby (Walsh) wasn’t happy with him and pulled him up early. To have three of the four runners out of the race before they came to the second-last first time round – I was depending on one.

“Every time I looked at Paul, his body language told me was very happy and the horse was relaxed. When he came over the last, I just looked at the winning post and thought nothing would come and get him unless he stops or runs out or something like that.

“I was here when my dad (Paddy Mullins) won with Dawn Run and I didn’t get home for two days. I sort of resigned myself to never winning a Gold Cup. Certain jockeys may never win the feature race of their lives, like the Grand National or the Champion Hurdle. I thought maybe I’m not going to be lucky.”

An emotional Townend – who hit the headlines for the wrong reason with Al Boum Photo at Punchestown last season, dramatically running out when in the lead – said: “I can’t believe it. It’s the Gold Cup, there’s only one a year and I never dreamt I’d win it.

“Like any race, when you’re going well it’s so simple. It’s unbelievable and I’m privileged to be riding for Willie Mullins.”

Anibale Fly ran a huge race to better this third place from 12 months ago.

His trainer Tony Martin said: “He’s run a blinder, but this was the one time I didn’t want Willie to win the Gold Cup!

Townend celebrates as he crosses the finish line.

“He is in the National again and obviously he was placed in it last year after running so well in the Gold Cup before, but he’s had a hard race there.

“We’ll just have to see how he is, it’s only three weeks away.”

Nigel Twiston-Davies had a word for those who might have written off the chance of Bristol De Mai.

He said: “The experts are the experts and I haven’t got a clue why they are experts. He was the joint top-rated in the race and he got beat, so maybe they are right!

“He’s been very sound this year. When he ran in this two years ago he’d had problems, but he’s been fine this year.

“He’s just top class, not just at Haydock, anywhere – he’s just finished third in the Gold Cup.”

Defending champion Native River was fourth, with Presenting Percy, the 100-30 favourite, in eighth.

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